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1.2.3 Determinism

The spectre of environmental determinism and the clear culture-nature dichotomy it enforces have featured heavily in recent discussions as to the explicit theoretical status of much archaeological GIS. In light of the exhaustive nature of these discussions (most fully, Gaffney and van Leusen 1995) there is no need to repeat the arguments here, though it is interesting to look at the suggestions that have resulted from them regarding how GIS should best proceed. In highlighting a fundamental functionalist and ecological bias, discussions as to how GIS-based studies should move ahead have been characterised by a somewhat dogmatic rejection of approaches focusing upon the 'natural' in favour of approaches which afford primacy to the 'cultural'. The character and dynamics of the physical environment are seen as either culturally incidental or, more dangerously, are portrayed as a background 'hum' that can be quantified and filtered out, leaving the analyst with a meaningful (and, more importantly, measurable) cultural residue (van Leusen, in Gaffney and van Leusen 1995).

What this backlash shares with the environmental determinism that it purports to stand in opposition to is the implicitly-enforced Cartesian dichotomy between the environment of the 'natural' and that of the 'cultural'. The artificiality of such a dichotomy has been highlighted by a number of authors, most forcibly Ingold and most recently in the context of GIS by McGlade (Ingold 1986, 1992; Tilley 1994; McGlade 1995). It seems clear that if we are to facilitate the movement of GIS-based studies beyond the rather stagnant, deterministic modes of explanation engendered by the conceptual limitations of 'off-the-shelf' systems, it will be better served by stressing integration and striving to incorporate the type of culture-nature synergy postulated by Ingold than through simplistic attempts to redress a perceived imbalance in a dualistic system whose conceptual basis is itself in doubt.


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